Down at the station, the detectives have been told by their Superintendent, Bestwick (Harry Andrews), that he is sick of hearing about them using informers from the criminal underworld to get their information, so from now on they are banned from using them in investigations. This is bad news for Chief Inspector Johnnoe (Nigel Patrick) as this was his main method of breaking his cases, especially the rash of bank robberies which have broken out across his patch of London in recent weeks. But instead of giving up the practice, he decides to be a lot quieter about it...
The ever-urbane and debonnaire Nigel Patrick was few people's idea of a British Charles Bronson, but he had a damn good try at it in The Informers, on the surface an identikit crime flick from the period where such things were feeling the pinch from television. What Dixon of Dock Green and its ilk could not supply was violence, so it was evidently the main purpose of bringing this tale (based on Douglas Warner's book Death of a Snout) to have this a far grittier prospect for cinemagoers than what they could see at home - on the box, that was. As Z-Cars began to grow in popularity, this sort of thriller had to keep up with the Joneses of TV to offer a reason for its audience to leave the house.
If anything, The Informers looked a lot more like the type of cop drama which arrived in the nineteen-seventies: if you were reminded of The Sweeney while watching this, then that was little wonder as its landscape of tough policemen and grubby criminals mixing with the bigger fishes in small ponds was very much taken from cinema of this previous decade. It may not start very promisingly, looking like some staid morality play about whether the law should be more judicious about where they get their information, never mind whether those in the know should pass that information on, but stick with it and you'll be pleasantly surprised at its increasingly seamy atmosphere and genuine suspense.
Patrick's Johnnoe is not exactly a bent copper, but he is willing to bend the rules if it suits his pursuit of justice, so willingly encourages his informer, or "snout" in the parlance of the day, to hang around where he might be able to shine a little light on those bank robberies. So when Jim Ruskin (John Cowley) is found dead, run over with a car out in the middle of the Essex countryside, Johnnoe smells a rat, and rightly so as we know the gangster behind the bank jobs is the same as the one who executed Jim to keep him quiet. Jim had a brother, Charlie (Colin Blakely), who bears an understandable grudge against the inspector for getting his sibling in over his head, but can he be relied upon to help Johnnoe when the gangster, Bertie Hoyle (Derren Nesbitt), frames him?
The cast was packed with recognisable faces, a host of character actors all clearly relishing the chance to play tough guys, even the likes of Roy Kinnear and Brian Wilde (best known for sitcom Last of the Summer Wine). Nesbitt was by this stage in his career a regular heavy in his movies, and none the less effective for that, a nasty little wideboy who is backed up by his right hand man Leon Sale (Frank Finlay) as the real power behind the throne, such as it is. With a complex but easy to follow storyline which gives every actor their opportunity to put in good work, handy when our main character ends up behind bars and cannot contribute to the proceedings until he's bailed, the sense of an ensemble of professionals only enhanced the growing tension. Climaxing with a massive "punch-up", what has led up to it was well-handled by director Ken Annakin, and if it's true you'd get as much enjoyment from watching an episode of Regan and Carter's exploits, that was no bad thing, was it? Music by Clifton Parker.